The thing about perspective…Ten for Today

What a thing to do, this getting away to change the scenery. Being on a family trip to France and Spain has brought not only refreshment to a pretty stale when it wasn’t toxic year, even years (I’ve had some years), but also a much needed perspective check. Seeing new lands, even if they’re the old ones, helps shift awareness into the absorbing/observing mode and backed out of the constant spewing mode.

The women I travel with, my daughters, are entwined in memory and making memories. My mother in law’s home is filled with childhood memories, flashbacks and glimpses: one was six and the other three the last time we visited. It was summer then. But this time they’ve brought themselves to their mamie’s house: inquisitive, cynical, wry and wondering. They’re excited but skeptical about this new outlook they were promised in this more socially conscious historically and gustatorily fermented with history country. It’s all about food, everywhere, every day.

They want to believe this land holds lure, romance–and it does–but they’re wise enough to know, despite the language barrier, that their 82 year old grandmother can sound as narrow-minded, silly, prejudiced, stereotypical and judgmental as any American. It’s both a national and a family thing. Their mamie is…well, their mamie. She is all of France and all of her. They love and hate to see themselves in her. 

And yet, the strangeness and familiarity of it all gives them, us, the comfort and discomfort to sit back and play compare and contrast, and practice some serious appreciation. They have options to be part of the world, not just their world. 

Oh, and internet access is sketch at best. The better to see their sometimes scowling, sometimes intent, oftentimes laughing faces.

Finally Finals: Ten for Today (and Tomorrow)


Click, click, tap, tap, ping…the room is a jitter with typing and timers. It’s final exam day, the last day of the semester, school year and year, almost. It is all three for me. Tomorrow I jet off to another land until next year.

 
The tension in the room agitates me, always does, hearing the sighs and coughs, seeing the head scratches and screen light bounce off the wide pupils of mad typists-thinkers. They’re exhausted. And so am I. I’ve stayed up late and gotten up early to finish grading their term papers, the culminating work in this writing course.
 
I hope I’ve taught them something. I always wish that–some affect I might have.
 
But some of them, I will have barely touched the shell of their minds. There’s a young man in my class who stares at me and smiles the entire class. He attends almost every class and looks engrossed in my lectures, detours, tangents and lessons. He watches attentively as I scribble dry erase marker slashes and dashes and dots on the white board. His eyes absorb the light of the projected screen filled with words and pictures.
 
But his work is crazy, of a parallel existence. He’s a photographer. He loves art.

He’ll smile and tell me that he’s got this essay down. But then he’ll hand in some garbled, riffing, hip-hopping, slap-dash jive bullshit about…frankly, I don’t know what. I read, trying to find the thread of his pieced together logic, the color of his world, or sliver of his memory filtering through disjointed fragments slithering between whole sentences and never-ending, like a river meandering down the shallow incline along a stony road, sun-blazed along red rocks, not a ripple, trickled to a narrow rivulet…and dry. Done.
 
I won’t reach him in time. It’s not his semester to catch on. That’s okay. I know it. I think he does too. He wrote a few final papers, two of them incomprehensible, but the third one…it’s practically logical, relevant and convincing.
 
I whisper during the final exam to him with a stone cold face: “You pulled it off.” He smiles. Of course, he does. It’s a breakthrough, but too little too late.
 
And on the way out, he says, ” See you next semester.” Yeah, he knows. I hope to see his smiling face in January, the new year, new semester and new beginning.

 
Image: touch-tap: pixabay

So Many Ways to Lose a Daughter

 

 
When they were little, headless operations I called them, 

toddling about with no motion detection sensors, 

oblivious to the science of mass in flight against

the immovable object, cause and effect, win and lose, 

I feared losing their pristine purity, their soft roundness

drenched in new flesh, irradiant, to rocks and bumps

in the playground grass or sandbox, opening into

split lips or knobby eggs on their foreheads. I feared

losing them to cars in free fall, driven by madness 

up on my lawn, taking my children with them, like 

the newspaper clipping in the local Starbucks report.

I feared flus and asthma, pneumonia, broken bones

and stitches they could contract or suffer with 

complication and then die in my arms or in their sleep.

I dreamed of kidnappings and wanderings off in 

supermarkets or department store aisles, lost, lost, lost.

I walked them to school the block and a half every day.

And when they were in middle school, I dreaded

the treacherous row of absent-minded, harried

dropping-off moms vs. the brainless, twit t’weeners on

bikes, laughing and careening their wheels into traffic,

caring little for mortality the daily drive threatened

like that boy and his friend on a bike, on the same road,

on the way to school two days before the school year

start, picking up his schedule, leisurely, laughing, 

peddling, looking back at his lagging friend just before

the swerve, the truck, the texting driver, the hit–gone.

I never let them ride their bikes to school, not with that.

I did not want to lose them to twenty somethings’ texts.

Just like I did not want to lose them to drugs, drunk

drivers and AIDS, cancer, concussions or accidents.

I did not want to lose them. And I lost them any way.

To friends, trends, music and driver’s licenses, to

social media and idealism, fierce loyalty and pride of

a generation angry in the wake of destruction their

parents have left them to navigate, chlorinate the gunk

of polluted finance and corrupt opinions and falsity, 

falsity everywhere. I lost them to independence and

opportunity elsewhere, greener, colder, blue-skyed

distant and lonely, free and home away from home.
 

credit: arthistoryarchive.com

When You’re a Grown up

  

My daughter and I were at the frozen yogurt store the other day when we overheard a boy about five years old say to presumably his mother, “I can’t wait til I’m a grownup!” Not exactly sure of the context, but I believe his mother had just conditioned his frozen yogurt choices on being old enough to know what was good for him.

Though the exclamation produced a smile on my face, my 19-year-old-off-to-college-this-week daughter quickly turned to the boy and said, “Don’t rush it, kid. You don’t know what you’re asking for.” And she laughed so as not to terrorize the boy.

I turned to her and asked, “Is it that bad?” She nodded, yes.

I know the anxiety of living away from home for the first time preys on her nerves, playing a checklist of to-do’s and what-if’s in her mind on endless repeat. I feel her.

She and I differ that way. When I left home, I had no thoughts. I left on the sheer will of want: whatever I wanted. It was only after I left that I began to worry as I realized I had no idea how to write a check let alone balance a checkbook. I had only one experience with a bank: a savings account my mother opened for me when I was in junior high, one with a little blue, firm-covered, palm-sized bank book in which to register deposits and withdrawals. I remember how grown up I felt then. But that bank book, regulated by my visions of large purchases and the change in my mother’s purse divided by four, did little to teach me about pooling money in time to pay rent, feed myself and pump gas into my car. 

I learned, especially after a few months of barely living on graham crackers and cottage cheese or peanut butter. A visiting uncle, a psychologist  from Texas, remarked to my mother at one family gathering during that time, “Does she have anorexia?”

Burning by my own mistakes was my way. Still is. So long as they were mine. My mother did little to prepare any of us five children for the world as she protected us–wittingly or unwittingly–from the responsibilities of grown-ups, cocooned as we were in our middle class suburban neighborhood.

Maybe it was the time too. She stayed at home and cooked for us, washed our clothes and poured our milk for us. I remember telling her one day in sudden astonished awareness, “Mom, I’m 12. I can pour my own milk.”

My children did not grow up the same way. Their parents worked and so had to fend for themselves more. Even when I worked from home when they were small, I advocated for their independence. As soon as they were old enough to complain about what was for dinner, I let them know they could make their own if they did not like what was on the menu and then showed them how to use the stove. 

I am not suggesting my kids are not over protected or spoiled in other ways, however. While my parents had no means to buy their children things we nevertheless asked for, my kids have had more money given to them than I had. Growing up in a one-wage factory laborer family, we became accustomed early on to the idea that any material items we wanted would have to be purchased by our own means. I worked mowing lawns, helping my brother deliver newspapers and babysitting from the time I was 8.

My daughters, on the other hand, were raised to believe their grades and sports were their jobs, that they had too many years ahead for the paying jobs that they would eventually have to report to daily. “Don’t rush into working,” I always said.  

So my 19 year old has had a job for a year now; she worked part time while attending the local community college to pay for her car, books, concerts and clothes. I know it has been a stretch, the responsibility, though I know it hasn’t been a shock. She is used to budgeting her time and her resources, having been over-scheduled since she was 6 with soccer practice, piano lessons, school, and whatever the day’s playdates or parties brought.

But it is not the practical how-to’s or what-to-do’s that have her worried about moving out. I know it. She can figure things out, and it isn’t as if she is completely cut from the cord. Smart phones have kept us connected for years now anyhow, near or far. I group text my daughters to come down from their upstairs perches (more like second-story caves) to dinner (when I cook).

Nope. What she fears, I imagine, is what we all do. Doing it herself–whatever it is. The psychological state of being on her own, which prefigures the time when she will be truly on her own, no parents to call upon for a word of advice or a few bucks (or few hundred) to carry her over til payday, is the foundational fear–of death, first others and then her own. 

Not to be too dramatic, but Freud did not get everything wrong. Death and sex are primary human motivators. Everything that drives us is rooted in either or both. 

When my daughter goes off to college, it will symbolize that eventuality (hopefully far down the line) of being on her own without the umbrella of parental love. She will experience it as a mix of anxiety and excitement. And even as she will be making her own love, whether parenting or not, which will occupy enormous space in her mind and heart, she will one day yearn–even if it is just for a moment—for a time when the burdens, seemingly too heavy to bear, were barely perceptible just as they were lurking, unnoticed, above her childhood, as she splashed in an inflatable pool in the backyard and wondered what was for lunch and if she would ever not be bored on endless summer days.

I know I have.

And perhaps my mother, sitting among us near motionless in the skin of a fading light, silently reminds her, also symbolically, that connections run deeper than the physical–etched like the voice that called her to dinner at night all those years of play and idle dreaming. Even when the voices are silenced into memory, beginnings and endings forge life forward even as they fall backward in the marching on. 

Snuckle Silly

This poem marks the half way mark of the poetry half marathon and the deteriorating focus and skills become more evident. That day started late with a late awakening and continued to be challenging around the house where I camped for this event. 

The prompt instructed the participants to write from another’s perspective. I started out that way–from a toddler’s perspective–and quickly departed on my own journey as was the case with most of the poems I tried to follow along with the others.

  

Swooshing, hum, hum, swishing um, um
inside an elephant’s trunk swinging away.
Parrhump a dump twiddle all the de-dum,
singing the song nasal as a horsy’s neigh.
 
“Tickle my feet again” begs twiggly titters.
Pebbly teeth swallow eyes disappeared,
blinked inside with butterfly lashes’ flitters.
“Snuckle me silly,” her fat-thumbed cheer.
 
Baby cry tears weeping joyfully in sneezes
shuffle eager ears along clear paths drawn.
With fatty lamb’s feet she snuggles breezes
plumped up in words to dimpled knee songs.
 
Too soon, too little, thinned spiny legs grow
lean against time stretched long and brittle
bones bounce less break slick sidling slope
downed in the snow howling no longer little.
 
Trigger smiles and crackled cries muffled
the early risers’ dawn in spires sunk below
for cattle cars passing by in bovine shuffle
milking calves paused in stations unknown.
 
Beneath the stretch of time’s skin lies heat
and the promise of the amnesiac release.
In squiggle patches laughs a memory treat
relished in paunchy belly sweet sits peace.

 
photo credit: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/toes